Prop 2 is the easy one. Proposition One is giving me a headache.
Proposition 1 would amend the Texas Constitution to authorize the creation of the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund in the state treasury. The Texas Transportation Commission would administer the fund and could issue bonds pledged against it.
The proposal includes no funding, and it doesn’t specify how much should be set aside for the effort.
If voters approve the amendment, the Legislature would have to provide initial funding in 2007.
The fund could be used to relocate or improve private or publicly owned rail facilities to relieve congestion on highways, improve public safety or air quality, or expand economic opportunity.
Earlier this year, [Governor Rick] Perry signed separate agreements with Union Pacific Railroad and the BNSF Railway Co., pledging the railroads’ and the state’s cooperation in moving freight rail out of densely populated urban areas.
The governor said the initiative would lead to safer rail crossings, less hazardous cargo carried through populated areas and faster movement of products to market because freight trains no longer would have to slow down in congested areas.
More than 5,500 people have been killed or injured in vehicle-train collisions in Texas since 1984, Perry said.
Supporters of the amendment also say old freight lines could be upgraded for urban commuter trains.
The proposed relocations tie into the Trans-Texas Corridor concept, Perry’s long-range proposal for a dedicated transportation network stretching across Texas.
Perry’s agreements with the railroads, however, didn’t say how the relocations, which could cost untold millions of dollars, would be paid for, except that the agreement with Union Pacific ruled out additional taxes or fees on the railroad industry.
Proposition 1 would provide a funding source, although Perry spokesman Robert Black emphasized, “I don’t think it was ever determined for the state to do (pay for) all of it.”
Union Pacific spokesman Joe Arbona said the railroad’s financial contribution to rail relocations would depend on the project. “If it’s something that would be beneficial to the railroad, we would pay for that part that’s beneficial to us,” he said.
On the one hand, I support the idea of rerouting freight train lines outside of urban areas, and I support the idea of freeing up those tracks for commuter rail. What’s bothering me is mostly that there’s no price tag being given (the earlier post mentions $100 million as a figure) and no clear agreement on who’s paying for how much. Given the large amounts that rail interests have donated to various Republican campaigns (including $25,000 to Perry by Union Pacific) and the predeliction of the current Lege to hand out tax-funded goodies to their corporate masters, I want more specifics before I sign on the dotted line.
As with other propositions, it’s not clear to me why this couldn’t be done by a regular act of the Lege. In February, TxDOT Chairman Ric Williamson expressed reluctance to ask the Lege for more money when there was still the issue of school finance unresolved. I don’t know what the state’s financial picture will look like in 2007, but I’m a little hesitant to force this onto the agenda without knowing what else we’ll have to be paying for. Is that too much to ask?
And sadly, Mayor White isn’t much help to me this time:
Spokesman Frank Michel said Houston Mayor Bill White is concerned about traffic congestion and safety issues involved with a large number of rail crossings, but he said the city hasn’t formally taken a position on the amendment.
I need to think about this one some more. Feel free to offer your guidance in the comments.